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Tim Dunn on The Architecture The Railways Built and Michael Portillo

On the eve of the second series of his hit TV series, The Architecture The Railways Built, Vicky Mayer caught up with presenter Tim Dunn over zoom to talk about the fun (and difficulties) he had making the series during the pandemic, his favourite train stations and why he doesn’t see himself as a rival to Michael Portillo.

Tim loves visiting trains stations for The Architecture The Railways Built

On a zoom call, I chatted with with the charming Tim Dunn to find out more about the second series of his hit UKTV series The Architecture The Railways Built which will be back on air tomorrow night, 19 January at 8pm. Despite all the problems that lock-down has bought, Tim and the team managed to film ten episodes of train history and fun for the show.

The first series of The Architecture The Railways Built was such a success that UKTV  soon announced that they were recommissioning two more series. ‘It was a huge surprise that the show recommissioned,’ says Tim. ‘We were delighted when we had a first series but the news that we’ll be doing series two and three was even more thrilling.’

Tim’s view is that the show is not just about the stations, viaducts and bridges that are featured but about the people whose passion built them. ‘The buildings we feature have a wonderful story to tell,’ he explains. ‘And each building is a microcosm of different stories. We meet so many wonderful people in each place we visit and each person has a wonderful story about the building they love.’

Why you should tweet Tim

Tim visits Wingfield Station in Derbyshire in The Architecture The Railways Built

Tim thinks his show makes a great starting point for those who of us who are interested in the history and functionality of railways and he loves the feedback he gets on twitter (@MrTimDunn) about the show.

‘If we hit a note with the public, I’m happy,’ he says. ‘We like to show that railways aren’t always about trains – they are about passion, people, enthusiasm and design.

‘A viewer tweeted us about Wingfield station in Derbyshire and we’ve featured it in this series. It’s one of the world’s oldest stations and it had been disused and forgotten about. But we got to open it up.’

How Covid shaped the railway show

Whether you’re creating a drama or factual TV programme, filming under the cloud of Covid is a nightmare for TV makers as Tim and his team discovered for series two. The team had to film outside and everyone had to stay at least two metres apart. ‘It has been tricky at times,’ admits Tim, ‘but we filmed the show from October and November so we managed to avoid this current lock-down. Unlike the first series, I didn’t manage to travel to Europe (the film crew went) this time around but there will be opportunities in the future and I’m looking forward to that.’

The European Connection

Don’t miss the magnificent São Bento train station in Porto

Following the same format as the first series, each episode of series two sees Tim telling the story of two UK locations and one in continental Europe. ‘After all, railway architecture doesn’t end at the Channel tunnel,’ he says, dryly.

‘In the first episode we take a look at the São Bento train station in Porto in northern Portugal. Everywhere you look, you’ll find these incredible hand-painted tiles around the station. We often think about railways being very functional buildings but the care lavished on this station is extraordinary.’

The second series of The Architecture The Railways Built also focuses on two of Tim’s favourite continental stations, Leipzig Central Station in Germany, Europe’s largest railway station with 24 platforms, and Łódź Fabryczna Station in Poland.  ‘You’re going to love it or hate it,’ he says of the latter, ‘they knocked down the original station and built a new version of it opposite.’.

The UK’s finest train stations

Wemyss Bay Station in Scotland is a total architectural delight

Back in the UK, Tim visited some of our island’s most fascinating railway stations. In episode one he visits Edwardian Wemyss Bay Station in Scotland. ‘One of the most amazing things about railway stations is how functionality is so important to their designs and this station is a great example of this,’ he says. ‘It was built to minimise the friction of people walking through. It has an incredible glass roof and all the corners have been arranged to get passengers around the station in the best way possible. A thousand passengers can disembark here and you can get them all on a boat heading to the Isle of Bute in a quarter of an hour. That’s an amazing station.’

In this series Tim explores three classic stations on the Piccadilly tube line

In series one of The Architecture The Railways Built, Tim explored the famous disused Down Street tube station and in this series he discovers the fascinating history of London’s Piccadilly line with visits to Arnos Grove, Southgate and Oakwood. ‘These stations celebrate the history of London’s suburbs as well as some great station architecture from Charles Holden who took his grand ideas from trips around Europe,’ says Tim. ‘In the show we ask why a building look like it does. There’s always a good reason and the stories behind those reasons are fascinating.’

Series one was about the big well-known stations, but in series two the show looks at other stations off the beaten track, including the Railway at Southend Pier, which is one of Tim’s favourites.

High jinks at Bristol Temple Meads station

Tim donned a hard hat to look at Bristol Temple Meads from above

In this series, Tim not only gets to visit some incredible stations – he also sees them from an entirely different angle. Take Bristol Temple Meads station. In one episode, he climbs on to its glass roof to look at the station below and also goes down to the station’s vaults too. ‘I think the producers like to put me on the roofs of stations to see my reaction,’ he laughs, ‘but I’m not afraid of heights and I know how lucky I am to gain such special access.’

Railway stations versus station viaducts

The Causey Arch in County Durham is the world’s oldest surviving single-arch bridge

Whilst the series concentrates on amazing stations, Tim also looks at the role viaducts have to plan in train travel. When asked, he admits to preferring stations, saying that he loves the care and thought that have been lavished on them. But he does concede that many people he meets can also see the beauty of viaducts. One of his favourite viaducts is the Causey Arch in County Durham, the oldest surviving single-arch railway bridge in the world.

What Tim thinks about Michael Portillo

Tim is a big fan of fellow train programme presenter Michael Portillo

When I ask Tim if he sees himself as Michael Portillo’s successor, he laughs out loud and says, ‘No! Not all. We do very different things. He is a wonderful broadcaster and picks wonderful routes to meet people to tell wonderful stories. I think if he and I were to approach the same locations we’d have very different focus.

‘Strangely, I haven’t met him yet. I was invited to go on one of the programmes for his recent series but I couldn’t go on it because we were filming series two. I’m sure we’ll get on when we do meet. There are a lot of different people making programmes about the railways and the more people talk about them the better. There is no competition between us – we are all about celebrating something we love very much.’

What’s next for Tim’s popular railway show?

Tim would like to explore the wonderful Cincinatti Union Station in the USA

One thing we both agree on is that Tim and the team will never run out of exciting stations and rail roads to explore but given the choice, he says he’d love to explore the USA’s finest stations. ‘The story of American rail roads is very different to the story of the rail roads in Europe,’ he says, ‘and they’ve got some great stations. First on my list would be Cincinatti Union Station.

‘I previously worked at the Sierra Leone Railway Museum in Freetown and they have lots of old British locomotives there. To go and see those stations and sheds again would be amazing. Sadly, the railways don’t run any more but their history is still there and I would like to go back and share the stories of that time with the rest of the world.’

Closer to home, Tim is keen to tell the story of the much-maligned Euston Station in central London. ‘Because of the destruction of the Euston Arch and the Great Hall the public have disliked Euston Station ever since,’ he says, ‘but it has a mid-century modern style and if you were to bring it back to its original form there are some excellent elements to it.’

The future of our best-loved train stations

Tim thinks stations will start to become hubs for the local community

When asked for how he sees the future of stations in the next decade, Tim has a lot to say. ‘In Britain we will have a more considered and centralised approach,’ he says.

‘Stations will be more multi-purpose and integrated into the local community so you might not have a ticket office but you’ll probably have a community room where people can get together. We’ll also probably have businesses and homes on stations too.’

The first episode of the new series of The Architecture The Railways Built will be broadcast at 8pm on Yesterday at UKTV on Tuesday 19 January 2021